The opening day of the third Test between India and England at Mohali was anything but usual, given the way the series has progressed so far. Unlike the strong starts that the team winning the toss experienced in the previous games, England failed to make the most of the early advantage, and found themselves at a less-than-satisfactory score of 268/8 at the end of the day's play.
The day was headlined by two factors — Jonny Bairstow's defiant knock that held the English innings together, as well as the Indian bowlers making up for the fielding lapses earlier in the day by setting the opposition batsmen up, and getting their wickets. In the end, it turned out to be a riveting day's play, one which saw a healthy competition between bat and ball. Although, the Englishmen would have wanted that to happen a day later.
For the Indians, it was all about redeeming their mistakes in the field to end the day in a relative position of strength, and with the mental edge going into the second day's play. If both Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja dropped Alastair Cook earlier in the day, they made sure they made up for it with the ball later in the day.
The day was starting to go from bad to worse for the Indians even before a ball was bowled, with opener KL Rahul getting ruled out of the Test (and possibly the series) moments before the match, which resulted in the hosts giving Karun Nair his much-awaited Test debut. The manner of handling Rahul's injury was rather confusing on the team management's part, which reflects a lack of transparency on the Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) part, the notion of which is further discussed by journalist Vedam Jaishankar.
Facing the prospect of Parthiv Patel having to bat at the top of the order alongside Murali Vijay, facing the likes of James Anderson and Chris Woakes, India set out to the field with the aim of keeping a check on the English top-order. They would have done a rather good job in that regard had Jadeja grabbed the chance at third slip after a leading edge off Cook's bat. Mohammed Shami missed out on an early breakthrough.
Umesh though, was bowling a superb spell at the other end, getting seam movement to beat the edge of young opener Haseeb Hameed, eventually dismissing him with a scorcher that caught him unaware, and deflecting to Ajinkya Rahane at gully off his gloves. Some respite for the hosts.
In the very next over, Cook offered Ashwin the simplest of catches at midwicket, one that could have been collected by a yawning schoolkid but somehow slipped out of the leading off-spinner's hand. He hardly helped his case, or improved his captain's temper, after a comical slip-up near midwicket to give Joe Root his second boundary of the innings.
However, by inducing a healthy edge off captain Cook's bat in his first delivery of the day, Ashwin ensured he restored his skipper's faith in him, and washed away his sins from the morning. This after Jayant trapped Joe Root plumb, with the latter going for a pull uncharacteristic of his class. Moeen Ali stayed around for a while, hammering a four and a six off consecutive deliveries from Jayant, before throwing his wicket away with a short delivery from Shami, one that he tried to hook, and ended up edging towards Vijay at fine-leg.
Having restricted the visitors to 92/4 at the end of the first session, India would have been relishing the prospect of containing them to a first-innings score within 200, one that would have given their top-order a big reason to cheer. Little did the Indian bowling attack anticipate the rigidity that would define Bairstow's presence at the crease. If the first session was India's, the second clearly belonged to the English wicketkeeper-batsman, who formed vital partnerships with Ben Stokes (29) and Jos Buttler (43) to rescue the tourists to a score of 205/5 at tea.
Just when hope was starting to sap out of the hosts, in came a loose shot from Jos Buttler off Jadeja's bowling, one that played straight into the hands of Kohli at extra-cover, resulting in the England limited-overs 'keeper's dismissal seven runs short of his fifty. With the momentum broken, England's run-rate took a hit, with the pressure starting to pile on Bairstow and Woakes.
The wickets of Bairstow (89) and Woakes (25) in the final 10 overs helped seal the final session of the day's play in India's favour. With two new batsmen at the crease overnight, India will look to wrap things up as quickly as possible on the second day. While they will rejoice the absence of Stuart Broad — someone who was handy with the bat down the order — they still have a threat in Adil Rashid to tackle on Day 2.
With the bowlers doing their bit so far in getting India the upper hand, it will be upto their batsmen, especially the top-order, to do their bit in getting their pursuit of a 2-0 series lead off to an ideal start.